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Danny Cavanagh: Our communities matter

Halifax Labour Day 2016, the Chronicle Herald detachment. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – As always, I am proud to once again celebrate our accomplishments and re-energize for the year and the challenges to come. We continue to grow as a Federation and welcome new unions and locals that have affiliated. Our Federation can look back on the past year and know that together we worked hard in our workplaces, unions and communities to make life better for all Nova Scotians. The challenges are many and we will continue to stand up for workers and our communities.  

This year will be one of court challenges. Bill 148 will likely get to the court and a legal decision will be made. We also have Bills 30 and 37 going to the Supreme Court of Canada. These decisions are complicated go beyond right and wrong. Whatever the outcome is in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal on Bill 148, either side will still have the right to go to the Supreme Court. When we look around at the union legal wins, we are doing well, proof that Government anti-worker bills have made us stronger. The courts are a costly place to do battle and when governments lose, they must answer for that.

Today in Nova Scotia we see a movement building in communities. It is not just unions any longer as we see people in communities coming together and standing their ground. Groups of people in Digby, Shelburne, Amherst, Springhill, Cape Breton and other areas are starting to grow. People are frustrated with government and it is showing. People see the power they can have on political influence when they rise up. The same kind of rising is something unions have been doing for years as we stood up for workers’ rights, and for better laws to protect workers and our communities. 

Our slogan “Together We are Stronger” is ringing loud and clear. When someone sees unions making a difference for workers with their job and with their quality of life that’s powerful.  People see and understand that having a union on your side makes your job and your workplace safer and fairer for the collective.

Union jobs build a strong local economy with better wages and benefits. Your own personal health and ability to do your job become important, and your rights to fair treatment get enforced. You feel the positive energy where you understand you have the power to make the change, and when we come together as a collective, as a community, that change becomes real.

Workers in unions and others in our communities are an important part of the local community and economy. We spend our paycheques in our community and that income supports local businesses, creates local jobs and bolsters the local tax base. The tax base supports public services and other community services that add to everyone’s quality of life. When a government decides to shut something down, then we see the rising of people. The fact is many times it’s pure government waste and not services in communities that drain government coffers. Do we really think providing fewer public services like health care and education is going to fix our fiscal woes? After hearing things will get better for the last 30 years, they haven’t. We lobby government to work with us, but the answer is always no. The time has come to say yes.

Good jobs and the benefits provided by unionized workers in our communities attract and support local business. That’s why businesses such as dentists, opticians, chiropractors, therapists, health specialists, lawyers, shops for food and clothes, cars, and restaurants open up in the community. Take away the backbone of the community, those union jobs and the trickle-down effect of more closings soon follows as people move to be closer to the services they need, want, expect and pay for.

Unions stand up for fairness and have throughout history and many of the things first won by unions are enjoyed by all workers today. Minimum wages, overtime pay, workplace safety standards, maternity and parental leave, vacation pay, and protection from discrimination, harassment and the list goes on.  None of these accomplishments would have happened without relentless lobbying by unions at all levels. 

I would suggest that many of these bills imposed by governments are not based on financial accountability, but them doing whatever corporations ask for when they come knocking and they expect to get their way. As we said for thirty years we have continually heard things will get better, they haven’t and won’t for us everyday folks.

The rising of people in community after community is showing the increasing frustration with government and their ongoing refusals to deal with issues of real community concern. People are frustrated with hallway medicine, that they lose public services, that the public voice in education is being removed. I contend that people will become more frustrated as they watch an ambulance drive by closed emergency rooms with a loved one on board. That when their kids need help in school no one in the community will answer the call for help. That they will need to drive for miles to see their loved one in long-term care. That they see their roads and highways continue to crumble as the pockets of the private corporations increase their profit margin out of our transportation budget.  The government is great at diminishing a public service in a community to the bare minimum and then privatize it – an old trick that costs taxpayers big time.

There is nothing wrong with standing up for what you believe in and holding those you elected to account for their decisions. So, on this Labour Day we have a lot to be proud of, and a lot to do and together we must rise up and defend ourselves, because it’s clear if our elected government leaders don’t work with us in our communities, we will rise because we all know, “Together We are Stronger”.

On behalf of the Executive Council, staff and over 90,000 members of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour I would like to wish all an enjoyable and safe Labour Day weekend.

Danny Cavanagh is the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour.

On September 3rd there will be Labour Day celebrations in Halifax and across Nova Scotia. Check out this listing.


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